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American Forces Press Service

NATO Secretary General Previews Defense Ministerial in Brussels

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2017 – On the eve of the Defense Ministerial in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is evolving and growing in funding and capabilities.

The secretary previewed the issues the ministers will deal with during a press conference in Brussels this morning. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is in Brussels for tomorrow's meeting at NATO headquarters.

Building on Previous Meetings

The ministerial builds on the NATO Heads of State and Government meeting held last month. Alliance members agreed to step up efforts to fight terrorism and more fairly share the security burden.

Stoltenberg noted that NATO's four multinational battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland are now fully operational. He called the accomplishment "a clear demonstration that our alliance stands united in the face of any possible aggression."

NATO put the battlegroups in place as a result of Russian actions in Georgia, the illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and continued military actions inside Ukraine. Russia has also been responsible for cyber operations directed against NATO.

"Last week I visited Latvia and Lithuania," Stoltenberg said. "I saw Canadian troops leading forces in Europe for the first time in decades, and I watched two of these battlegroups exercise together for the first time. This is real transatlantic solidarity in action: Europeans and North Americans working as one for our shared security."

Strengthening Deterrence

NATO is also strengthening deterrence in the Black Sea region with a land element in Romania, Stoltenberg said.

Key to increasing NATO capabilities is increased funding. The allies agreed at both the Wales and Warsaw summits to increase military spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product. Stoltenberg released the final defense spending figures for 2016 and estimates for 2017, and said the alliance is trending in the right direction.

Defense Spending Increases

"After years of decline, in 2015 we saw a real increase in defense spending across European allies and Canada," he said. "In 2016, this continued. And, this year in 2017, we foresee an even greater annual real increase of 4.3 percent."

Over the last three years, European allies and Canada spent almost $46 billion more on defense. "So we have really shifted gears. The trend is up and we intend to keep it up," Stoltenberg said.

Last year, he said, five allies met NATO's benchmark of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. They are the United States, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Poland and Greece.

"This year, we expect Romania to join them and in 2018, Latvia and Lithuania will spend 2 percent of GDP on defense as well," Stoltenberg said. "Allies' national plans will ensure we maintain the momentum."

The secretary general expects allies to agree to new capability targets during the ministerial. "These set out areas where we plan to improve further, including heavy equipment, air-to-air refueling and more forces able to move at even shorter notice," he said. "As NATO develops capabilities, it is important to make the most of limited resources and avoid duplication. That's one reason why NATO and the European Union are working more closely together than ever before."

Stoltenberg said he will brief the defense ministers on NATO-EU cooperation.

"The report sets out how our organizations are working together on issues ranging from resilience to hybrid threats and support for partners," he said. "We will look into further ways to expand our cooperation by the end of this year."

Defeating Terrorism

Terrorism will also be a major point of discussion, Stoltenberg said. The heads of state agreed that the alliance should join the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

"This not only sends a strong message of unity in the fight against terrorism; it also serves as a platform for practical cooperation," he said. "NATO is now fully integrated into the information-sharing and decision-making structures of the coalition, and we have already stepped up our support with more flight time and information sharing by our AWACS surveillance aircraft."

The alliance will continue efforts to strengthen Iraqi security institutions, Stoltenberg said.

In Brussels, NATO has set up a new intelligence division which contains a new hybrid threat branch and a terrorism intelligence cell, he said. "Their work will help us better understand and counter the threat of terrorism and foreign fighters," Stoltenberg said. "NATO's work to fight terrorism involves many different initiatives, ranging from intelligence to capacity building and training, from Europe to the Middle East."

Stoltenberg announced his deputy, Rose Gottemoeller, will coordinate the alliance's efforts in fighting terrorism.

"We will close the ministerial with a meeting on Afghanistan, where our Resolute Support Mission helps ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism," he said.

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